Saturday, January 31, 2015

HeartSmart: Ministry of Marriage

The Ministry and Meaning of Marriage

(Eph 1:3; Gen 2:24) (1/25/15)

In March of 1960, Rosemary and I were heading home from Rapid City.  We had been dating off and on for 4 to 5 years.  There was no doubt in our minds that someday we were going to get married.  In fact, we’d been engaged for six months, the date just hadn’t been set.
On the way home, we had a spat.  The resolution, the kiss and make-up part, was that we were going to get married that weekend.  As soon as we got home we were going to tell our parents we wanted to get married.  Never mind that it took three days to get a marriage license.  It was obvious that we weren’t going to get married that weekend and our parents breathed a sigh of relief.  My dad lived in fear I would not finish my college education.
Sunday afternoon we drove back to Rapid City and decided on the way we’d get married in three weeks.  And we called our parents to let them know.  Not happy, but three weeks later we were at the church.
One little detail.  I didn’t know about this until later.  My dad was still worried about a wedding preempting my schooling.  Now Rosemary’s church did not have an entry way, no place inside for the bride to wait for the processional to begin.  She stood on the outside step waiting for the wedding march to begin.  I was to find out later that all the while she stood out there, my dad was there too telling her, “Rosemary, you don’t have to go through with this.  If you’d like to go to college, I’ll send you anywhere you want to go (meaning a long way away), and I’ll pay for it.  Rosemary, you don’t have to go through with this.”
But we did.  (I need to tell you that Rosemary and my Dad became fast friends.)  Anyway, we stood there before Reverend Locher and repeated, “I Rick, take thee, Rosemary, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and therefore I plight thee my troth.”
“And thereto I plight thee my troth.”  What in the world was that?  “Plight, troth.” By the way, in nowhere else that the wedding ceremony are those words put together that way, and I’d never heard them before.  I had no idea what they meant, but they were part of the vow.  So I said it.
I know today, this week because I looked it up, it means, “And therefore I promise to be true.”  Today we say, “This is my solemn vow.”
Now, just like I didn’t know what “troth” was, I’m not sure we knew what we were getting into or why.  We just wanted to be together.  I’m sure that others have thought it out in a great deal of detail.  But we just wanted to be together.  Fortunately, we’ve been together long enough to figure out many of the other reasons, the purposes and meanings of marriage.
One author that I’m reading sums it up well.  He says, “The purpose of marriage is not to just get along, but to support each other’s hopes and dreams and aspirations, and build a sense of purpose into each other’s lives together.”  He says, that’s really what he means when he talks about honoring and respecting each other. Those hopes and dreams and aspirations can be as varied as there are marriages.  They can be family, they can be ranches and farms, they can be careers. They can be judgeships, aspirations, and they can develop and change as you go through life together.
But they honor each other. 
And they honor God..  God is a partner to this arrangement.  It is not a contract signed by two parties, it is a covenant established by God.  God is a partner to the covenant.  God established this arrangement: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Covenant.
Let me tell you what my understanding of the difference between a contract and a covenant is.
First, a contract.  A contract establishes boundaries.  To fulfill a contract, you operate at the edges, how far you can go without violating the terms.  If you have a rental agreement that says you can only put eight holes in a wall, hang eight pictures, you probably stop at seven pictures, just to make sure.  Your concern is not the integrity of the wall, but how far you can go without violating the contract.
If I treated a marriage as a contract, I would say, “how far can I go before I dishonor her?”
With a covenant, you live into the covenant, rather than operating at the edges.  With a covenant, the question becomes “what can I do to honor her?”  Live into the covenant.
With a contract one might say, “how flirtatious can I be, before I exceed ‘forsaking all others.’?”  “What can I think before I no longer cherish her?”  What are the limits?  Where is the edge?
With a covenant, you live into it.  God lives into it.  We live into it. God made a covenant with the children of Israel, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
God lived into it by blessings us, a blessing is the promise of a future.  Land was a part of the covenant.  In the Old Testament, it was the land of Canaan.  As New Testament participants in the covenant, we see that land as the kingdom of God and our eternal home.
Our part to live into this covenant with God, to be his people is to Love God and to Love one another.  We live into it.  We don’t ask about the edges.  O, some do.  Remember the lawyer that asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  He wanted to know what the edges were.  He wanted to know the boundaries, he wanted to know who he didn’t have to love.  It’s the story of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus was saying, you don’t have a choice who you have to love, live into it.
How do we live into it?  How do we make the most of loving God and loving neighbor?  We are intentional about it.  We ask ourselves each day, what can I do today?  Of course we fail.  But God is faithful, “He is faithful and just and forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”
And of course the same thing is true in marriage.  To live into it, we need to be intentional each day about being a blessing to the other, to seek the best of the other, to honor and respect the other, to understand the other.  Of course we fail there to.  That’s why we said last week that one of the pillars of marriage, of the covenant relationship we have with each other has to be forgiveness.  “Forgiving each other as God in Christ has forgiven us.” 
So if we are going to be intentional about blessing the other, how is it that we are to do it?  And how much is enough? (Yep we still want to know where the edges are don’t we?)  Maybe the best metaphor I have seen is the love bank or relationship bank)  A bank, because it works like a bank.  We make deposits, we make withdrawals.  The account has a balance.  If we make more withdrawals than we’ve made deposits, we have insufficient funds and there is a price to pay isn’t there?  You see how this is working?  And if we have insufficient funds too long, we can expect the account to be closed.
Do you see the metaphor?
In marriage, in relationships, deposits are those things that bless the other person, that lifts them up, that affirms them, that honors them, that give them hope, that makes them see meaning and purpose, that make them feel loved.  Do you see?
Of course there are withdrawals.  Out too late with the boys.  Not getting the garbage out on time.  Staying at the fishing hole too long when there are chores. Here’s one: buying her a lawn tractor for her birthday.  Now if Rebecca bought Steve a tractor, that would be a deposit.  Not so much the other way around. 
Then there is the zinger.  That “cute,” critical, contemptuous, disrespectful, demeaning, comment made in the heat of battle.  One truth in relationships is that one zinger can destroy 20 acts of loving kindness.  20 deposits just gone with one zinger.  Instant overdraft.
The other thing is that men and women have different concepts of what makes up a deposit.  Men think it’s big things, women think they are the little things we do every day.  I say, “I bought you a car for last Mother’s Day, that ought to be enough for a year.  Right?”  Rosemary would just as soon I unload the dishwasher for her.
What is it that constitutes a blessing?  What is that helps us to live into our relationship in marriage?  In preparation for a sermon series on marriage four years ago, Church of the Resurrection did a survey of over 2000 women and 1500 men of ages from 19 to 90, these are some of the things they found that men want and women want from a relationship.  One question they asked was, “What are the things your spouse does to make you feel closest to him or her?:
Married Men, 19-29 (young bucks): 1. Having fun with me.  2. Demonstrations of affection.  3. Sexual intimacy. 4. Words of admiration/compliments. 5. Sharing feelings with me.
(One comment here and then I’m going to flash through the others so you can see the changes that take place with age.  First, fun together.  Here is the commonality, the friendship, the companionship that is so important in a marriage.  Rosemary’s niece, Katie and her husband Jesse just hit that 30 mark and boy do they have fun together.  But let me tell you the things they do are expensive.)
Married Men. 30-49. 1. Sexual intimacy. 2. Demonstrations of affection. 3. Having fun with me. 4. Words of admiration/ compliments. 5. Listening to me.  (Note that intimacy is at the top in this age group and listening to me has made an appearance.  Interesting.  Bet you women didn’t think that listening would be a man’s issue.)
Married Men, 50-69. 1. Having fun with me. 2. Demonstrations of Affection. 3. Sharing feelings with me. 4. Listening to me. 5. Sexual intimacy.
Married Men, 70-100. 1. Sharing feelings. 2. Tender touch/affection. 3. Listening to me. 4. Having fun with me. 5. Words of Admiration/compliments.
(Just so you know.  Even in this age group, intimacy was not far away.  It was number 6.)
I want to skip back to 30-49.  A couple of observations.  This age group is a danger zone.  I think we’re seeing here the impact of kids and job stress.  Kids have an impact.  Mom is worn out.  The kids worry her.  Jobs for both men and women are stressful.  Kids stress out the marriage.  There’s less time for intimacy.  We men are fragile creatures and our self-esteem gets wrapped up in our desirability and in our intimacy with our mate.  And if we are rejected, it attacks our esteem too.  It becomes important to us.  It has shot to the top of the list.  The second thing is, we need to be stroked.  Admiration and compliments are part of every age group.  We may not be admired or complimented anywhere else, but it is important in our marriage.
Again, why are we looking at this?  Women, it is a chance to see what it is that blesses your mate, what it is that draws him closest to you.  How you can make deposits in your Love Bank.
Now let’s look at what women say makes them feel closest to their mates:
Married Women, 19-29. 1. Sharing his feelings with me. (Women, does that surprise you?) 2. Having fun with me. (That’s common, good to have common things.) 3. Demonstrations of affection.  (Again men and women need affection (different than intimacy, but there’s really room for common ground.)) 4. Listening to me. (Men, does that surprise you?) and 5. Words of admiration/compliments (We all like to be appreciated.)
Now lets see how it changes with age.
Married Women, 30-49 (Again the stress years.) 1. Sharing his feelings with me. 2. Having fun with me. 3. Listening to me. 4. Demonstrations of affection. 5. When he cares for the children. 
(Again, the stress years.  I think children occupy the thoughts of the wives while the job stresses out the men and we men don’t pay enough attention to the kids.  I can hear Rosemary emphatically telling me she wanted me to spend more time with the kids, she wanted part of me to rub off on them.  It fits exactly here.)
Married Women, Age 50-69. 1. Sharing his feelings with me (Men, do you see a pattern?) 2. Having fun with me. 3. Demonstrations of affection. 4. Listening to me. 4. Making me feel safe and secure.  (I’m not sure where this one came from.  Maybe that’s why we need to teach our wives to lie and to always pack a knife (you had to be here last week.))
Married Women, 70-100. 1. Demonstrations of affection.  (Wow, affection up at the top.) 2. Sharing his feelings with me. 3. Words of admiration/compliments. 4. Tender touch. 5. When he worships with me.  (I like this last one.)
Again men, we’re looking at how we can bless one another.  Interesting that sharing feeling was on both lists.  But when Pastor Adam Hamilton used this at his church, he followed up on facebook to ask what men and women really meant by sharing?  Women said, “Sharing your feelings with me is not grunting.  I need you to tell more.  I want details.  I want information.  I want you to tell me what you were thinking and what you were feeling.”  Sound right?  For the guys it was simpler, “Tell me exactly what happened, and give it to me in 60 seconds or less.” 
You’ll notice that sexual intimacy is not on the women’s list, but demonstrations of affection, yes.  Tender touch, yes.  It took me a long time to come to understand that non-sexual touching was important.  It is important all the way to 100.
And then, “When he worships with me.”  By the way, other surveys show that deeply committed Christians share more intimacy than others.  Maybe we take the command to be fruitful and multiply more seriously.  Then worship together.  Just saying.
Again, we’re talking about Love Banks.  How can I make more deposits, how can I bless my partner more?  I think the responses can be seen as the various kinds of love that flow through a relationship.  The Greeks have five different words for love.
Eros is Cupid’s love, romantic love.  It is the love that first calls us to “cling” to one another.
Agape is that God-like active, sacrificing love that we would like to emulate but we so often fail to do because we are imperfect.  We want to be self-giving but at the same time we say “I can’t live without her.”  We have need-love too.
Then there is Philo, friendship love.  It was CS Lewis that said with Eros, we share with one another face-to-face, with Philo, we look at the future side by side.  With Philo, friendship, we look at the world with common purpose, common meaning.
Then there is familial love, the love we have for family.  The Greek word is “storge.”  It showed up when the woman said they were drawn to their husbands when they cared for the children.
There’s one more form of love that intertwines all of the others and that is “affection.”  I think of affection as the charm, the tender touch, the caring that flows through all of the other types of love.  It is the blessing that the women called for in desiring from us displays of affection.
Friendship.  But friendship too weaves itself through the other aspects of love.  One marriage expert says the determining factor in which most couples feel satisfaction with all aspects of their marriage is their friendship.  I think that’s where we saw the desirability of fun together, of listening to one another, of admiring and complimenting one another.  We need a friend.
In fact one of the forms of marriage counseling is to strive to improve familiarity, to make the partners better friends.
It doesn’t make difference go away, but friends overlook differences, find a way to work around them.  And even though they may have differences, they stand side by side, arm in arm, looking at the future together.
In turn, they use their familiarity with one another to bless one another, nurturing their fondness and admiration for one another.
I seems to me that we need to work on all of these, romance, the love that first makes us cling together, may not need work at first, but after the honeymoon is over, even that one needs attention.  They all need to be weaved together.  We need to be intentional about all of them.
The man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two will become one.  The covenant  of marriage established by God.  A covenant with one another that we live into. 
John Wesley told his followers we are to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God.  I think the same rules apply to marriage.
First, do no harm: No zingers, Avoid negativity.  Do no harm.  Do no harm is first, because remember, we can always be forgiven, but often the consequences of hurt, the consequences of harm can never be erased.
Then Do Good: We do good when we live into the covenant, seek to bless the other.  Fill the love bank to the brim.
Then, Stay in Love with one another: When we work on the loves, when we weave all five of them together; we stay in love with one another when we weave them all together in the sight of God.  We become one flesh and we are not ashamed.
So may it be in all of our lives.  Amen.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

HeartSmart: Habits that Hurt, Habits that Heal

HeartSmart: Habits that Hurt, Habits that Heal

(Eph 4:29;31-32) (1/18/15)


Last week we talked about “Taming the Shrew Within Us,” words that hurt.  One author felt so strongly about words that hurt that he described them as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. You may remember them from the Book of Revelation.  You don’t have to be a student of the Bible to know about them, they’re famous in all of literature.

John, the writer of Revelation says, “I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”  I looked, and there was a white horse!  Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.”  Conquering.

Then a bright red horse.  Blood.  War.
And a black horse.  Famine and pestilence.
Finally a pale green horse.  Death and plague.
Conquering, war, famine, death.  Not good things.

Well, the four horsemen of the apocalypse in relationships are not good things either.  And they can lead to the death of a relationship.  Marriage expert John Gottman lists them as “Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and stonewalling.”

Criticism.  Now, a complaint is a legitimate part of relationships, the unemotional description of a problem to be dealt with.  The difference, the difference between a complaint and criticism is that a complaint is about behavior.  Criticism on the other hand is character assassination.  A complaint stated in a non-blaming, positive fashion would be “The house needs to be picked up.”
Criticism on the hand would be “The house needs to picked up.  Don’t you ever pick anything up?”

Contempt takes it a step further conveying disgust for the other, name calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mocking, hostility that is poisonous to a relationship.  Contempt might say, “The house needs to be picked up.  Don’t you ever pick anything up, you slob?”

Defensiveness is normally a means of blaming the other person.  “I’m just too tired to pick things up.  You know I have to work two jobs just to keep you in shoes.  You’d think you were Imelda Marcos.”  Yes, defensiveness is normally another form of blaming and is often contemptuous. 

Stonewalling.  As the level of criticism, and contempt and defensiveness rises almost like handing off batons in a relay, one partner or the other completely tunes out.  It’s protection from being overwhelmed by the negativity of hurtful words.  Stonewalling cuts off communications and heralds in death to the relationship.  The pale green horse has arrived.

How is it that turn the habit of words that hurt into a habit of words that heal?  Listen to Ephesians 4:29, 31 and 32: 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[a] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
What if we were slow to speak so that nothing critical or contemptuous or blaming ever came out of our mouths but only that which was useful for building up, for blessing, for giving grace to the other?  What if?
The passage continues: 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[
“Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  As you can tell, this is one of my favorite verses.  Kindness heals, tenderheartedness heals, forgiveness heals.  And my belief is that they heal both parties.  “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”


Harsh words are a habit that hurts.  Kind, tenderhearted, forgiving words are a habit that heals.  Of course there are other damaging habits that destroy relationships, destroy lives.

One such habit is abuse.  Physical abuse.  Verbal abuse so demeaning that it destroys.  Abuse.  Do you know that every 15 seconds in the United States a wife is abused by her husband?  Mostly the man, but we only have to read the book or see the play, “Misery,” to know that it’s not always the case.  And parents can abuse children both physically and verbally.

Unfortunately abuse is learned and is passed from generation to generation.

Some survive to lead productive lives, too many don’t.  Some confuse harshness with love.  It’s the only thing they’ve experienced.

Yet love lifts up, makes us to grow.  Abuse demeans and diminishes us, makes us lose all self-respect.  I’ve heard people call those things that diminish another as “evil.”  If anything would make God weep, it would be the abuse of the most vulnerable among us.

Abuse destroys.  Society has decided, and I think God would agree, that people need to be protected from abuse.  Certainly abuse harms, destroys family relationships.  A habit that hurts.

Dishonestly and Lying. 

I’m not sure where betrayal starts, but it manifests itself in lying and dishonesty. 

No relationship can withstand an onslaught of dishonesty and deceit. 

What about little white lies?  What if you believe a lie is in the best interests of the other?  What if you believe a lie is loving?  I can’t answer that.  I’m sure that once in a lifetime that may come to pass.  But I can’t answer that.

This is such a deep and dark subject that I have to add a little humor to.  My favorite Cowboy poet Yvonne Hollenbeck has something to say about lying, about when lying might be a good thing.  (“Cuttin’ Katie”  (Sorry folks, you had to be there!))

Poor handling of money.  Actually, in many surveys, money is the biggest cause of divorce.  Poor handling, poor communication about money and spending, debt that can lead a family to be deprived of essentials can lead to mistrust and deception and lying.  See where this is going?  Poor handling of money can feed into many of the other hurtful habits: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling—the pale green horse arrives again.  If there is any inkling of a money problem, I would recommend that a couple attend a Dave Ramsey, “Financial Peace University” course at the earliest opportunity.  Not only will it teach you to manage money using Godly principles, but to communicate about money, and teach you to get and stay out of debt.  Dave Ramsey, “Financial Peace University.”  There are classes starting soon in Auvasse, Columbia and Jeff City.  See me if this is of interest to you.  “Financial Peace University.”  A really good course

The last two destructive hurtful habits I’ll start with a story. 

Our first real duty assignment was Ft Rucker AL.  One of the officers in our unit who became a real friend was Captain Bob Step.  Good guy, kind, warm-hearted, broadshouldered, big guy.  You could never imagine that anything could take him down physically.  One of the things we remember was that he had a Model A Ford and he used to come by and take our kids for a ride and it had a uga horn.  The kids, they were five and three when we left there, loved it.  His wife, Nancy adored him.  They were a great pair Bob and Nancy were.

We left there in 1966.  He probably did too, and then came back.  We went back to Ft. Rucker in 1972 and by that time Bob was there.  We bumped into him at the bar in the Officer’s Club.  Six years.  Just six years.  The physical transformation was astounding.  This big broad-shouldered man was a shell.  Dark circles under his eyes, gaunt cheeks, ashen complexion, skinny, alcohol had destroyed his health. 

He had been passed over for promotion.  Alcohol had destroyed his career too.  But more than that.  Bob had involved himself with an Army Nurse and together the infidelity and the alcoholism had destroyed his marriage.  The nurse got out of it, but Bob couldn’t get over it and his marriage was in shambles.  Nancy had just left to go home to Pennsylvania when we had met Bob, wretch that he was.  I don’t know which came first, the drinking or the infidelity, probably together.  We make terrible decisions when suffer from addictions.  Bob’s marriage, his career, his very life were destroyed by addiction and adultery. 

Of course there are other addictions too that we have to deal with that we may not have had to in the 60s and 70s.  Drugs, gambling, pornography.  Yes, even in the country.  Two more quick stories.

Ron and Darlene were our next door neighbors in Connecticut.  For a while.  Ron was reasonably successful.  I think they had paid cash for the house when they moved in.  Reasonably successful, then problems started.  We knew because Darlene was the type that when she opened her mouth her life story poured out whether you wanted to hear it or not.  She told everything, at least everything she knew.  Later we would find out that Ron was dealing with two addictions, cocaine and gambling.  Vicious circle.  He hoped winning would cover his drug debts which he needed to cover his gambling guilt.  And the gambling debt mounted and the drug problem got worse and worse.  Darlene had no idea how bad it was until Ron had to get out of town.  I’m sure his gambling debt was up to here and his life was being threatened.  He left town, gave the house to Darlene and headed for someplace in the mountains of New Mexico never to be found.  What Darlene found out, however, was that there was no more equity in the house.  Ron had mortgaged it all for his addictions.  Darlene was left with nothing.  Addictions, habits that hurt.

The next addiction story is closer to home.  And you just don’t think about it as part of the rural landscape.  I’ve been teaching lay speaking in Missouri for 15 years.  One of the couples, farm couple, we don’t have any Berts or Betty’s here so I’ll call them Bert and Betty.  Mid fifties maybe when I met them.  Bert and Betty were at every training event.  Dedicated to one another. 
I didn’t see them for a few years and I had a worship event that I knew that Betty could help with so I invited her to participate.  She came with her sister.  At some point her sister confided that Betty’s life was in chaos.  Bert was in jail.  The Sheriff had found child pornography on his computer. 
Betty has now dropped out of the church.  I think because it was child pornography, Bert was not accepted back into the church when he got out of prison.
Their relationship, their faith, their life is in shambles. 
They are not alone.  Pornography is an addiction.  A big addiction.  The pornography industry is a 15 billion dollar industry in the United States, a 100 billion dollar industry world wide.  With the internet, it can have its tentacles into every house in the country, every city apartment, every country farm house.  It can warp the way we view relationships.  It can destroy us.

Habits that hurt, no—habits that destroy.  If you know someone who is on or who is at the precipice of addictive behavior, there is God based help.  I’d highly recommend Celebrate Recovery, a Christian based, 12 step program available at Form Boulevard Christian Church in Columbia that provides support for all nature of addictive programs.  If you have any questions, have them see me or call me privately day or night.  Or just go to Forum.  Their meetings are from 1:30 to 3:00 on Sunday afternoons.  If you know anything about 12 step programs, you just go.  Know this that God cares.


God cares.  (Sometimes we have to take it upon ourselves “to teach your wife to lie and make sure she packs a knife.”)  But God cares.  That’s why he wants us to lead good lives in relationship with one another.  That’s why he doesn’t want us to harm one another.  That’s why he teaches us to live in harmony with one another.  That’s why he teaches us habits that heal.

It’s been said that if we would simply follow two kingdom habits that much of the misery in this world would instantly fall away.  Two kingdom habits:

What James called the Royal Law: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your neighbor yes, but love yourself too.  If one truly loved themselves they would avoid addictions at all costs, avoid harm to themselves at all costs.  The Royal Law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And the Golden Rule: In everything.  I think that’s important, in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.  We want to be treated with kindness and grace, do we not?  We want to be blessed, to have the best for our lives.  If we would only recognize that and then “Do to others as we would have them do to us.”  Jesus said, this sums up all the law and the prophets.

Do unto others.  I think God wants us to be kind to one another which brings me again to today’s scripture, Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  Be kind, use words that bless the other, that seek the best for the other.  Wouldn’t you like to be known as the person that brightens the room when they enter because everyone knows that the words you will use will be words of grace, words that build others up, words that heal.  That is a habit that heals.

Now I want to talk about the habits that I believe are the two pillars of relationships.  “Forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 

We are human, we are imperfect, we make mistakes, we make mistakes in our relationships.  Therefore the six most important words of all in our relationships are
-- “I am sorry.”  That’s three.
-- And the other three are “I forgive you.”
--The six most important words: “I am sorry.” And “I forgive you.”

Forgiveness is a habit that heals: “Forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  More than a habit, a command.  Jesus says, “You must forgive.”

The second pillar of relationships is Prayer, prayer for the other, prayer for your beloved.  Make it a habit to pray for one another, ask God’s blessings on one another, seek the best in the life of the other, give thanks for one another.  If you ask, how can you not act, too, in a way that blesses the other and seeks the best for the other, is thankful for the other.  Make it a healing habit to pray for one another.


We are human, we suffer from the brokenness of the human condition.  How is it that we can minimize habits that hurt and maximize habits that heal so it is that we don’t hurt those that we love and instead bless them? 

Going back to our first sermon: We become the person we want, wants.

We do so by living a life that is pleasing to God and we do so by prayerfully placing ourselves in God’s hands.  And when we do that, God molds us, changes us.  We call that process sanctification, God taking us from where we are and molding us into what he wants us to be.  We can do little to change ourselves, but God can change us.  We can do little by ourselves to become the person we want, wants, but God can mold us to become that person.

Prayerfully place yourselves under the guidance of Jesus’ call to love:
--Love is patient.  Love waits out the other, and in the meantime…
--Love is kind.
--Love places the interests of others above self.
--Love never keeps a record of wrongs, but instead forgives.
--Love is not easily angered, instead we choose to love.
--Love always seeks to bless the other, seeks the best for the other person.
--Love never fails.

Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.  And pray for the other.

Place yourselves under God’s hand.  God will make you the person you want, wants.  So may it be in all of our lives.  Amen.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

HeartSmart: "Taming the Shrew"

Second in the HeartSmart Series on Relationships


HeartSmart: “Taming the Shrew”

(Eph 4:29-31; Ja 1:19) (1/11/15)


Last week we began a new series, “Heartsmart,” about relationships.  Relationships are important to God, with us and among us.  That’s what the biblical story is about, God’s relationship with us, with the community of believers, and a personal relationship through Christ’s incarnation.  Then if you think about Christ’s commandments, they are all about relationship: Love the Lord your God, yes; but love your neighbors as yourself; by this you will be known as my disciples if you have love for one another; in everything, therefore, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Relationship.  Relationship is important to God.  It needs to be important to us.  We need to talk about it.

Last week we began the series with the title, “The Right Person Myth.”  For this series, rather than a short summary in the bulletin each week like I’ve done in the past, I’m printing a few copies of the entire sermon that will be available in the back.  I’m also posting them on line at my blog so that people like Claire and Cody can have access to them.

So last week we said, whether you might be a person looking for a friend, a single looking for a mate, or a married person in a new season of life where things aren’t as you might want them.  Maybe our Prince Charming isn’t; or maybe our Snow White is a little dingy, or maybe we’re different.  In the meantime, in the meantime, instead of frustratingly looking, searching in vain, we are instead to become the person we’re looking for is looking for, becoming the person we want, wants. 

As a Scripture, we used 1 Cor 13 (“If I speak in the tongue of men and of angels and do not have love, do not have charity, do not have agape, I am nothing.”) and said it was never meant to be a wedding scripture but about relationships.  Paul didn’t write it to a married couple, but to a small church.  It is about how we are to treat one another in relationship.  In fact, it’s a checklist on how we can become the person we want wants, the person we’re looking for is looking for.  If fact we created a card with such a checklist.
--Love is patient.  Patience is the theme.  In the meantime, we use the “love” checklist to become the person we want, wants.  We focus on ourselves, not waiting for the other.  We are only in control of ourselves.
--Love is kind.  When we enter the room, do the dogs scurry into the corner, or does the warm-hearted index rise?  Do people smile as the result of our presence?  Do they feel blessed because we are here?  Love is kind.
--Love does not eny, it does not boars, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.  In other words, love puts the interest of others ahead of self. 
--Get the picture?  Examine yourselves often using love, active, sacrificial love of 1 Cor as a checklist.

Always seek to bless the other person, to be a companion, to be understanding.  One of the primary reasons people desire to be in relationship is to have someone who understands them.  Be that person: Seek to bless, to be a companion, be understanding.

Last week, I used, maybe overused, Rick and Rosemary as an example.  Truth be known, we get along pretty well.  We are not confrontational people.  In fact, if anything, we shy away from confrontation.  We’ve found ways to work things out, to accept things that we can’t change, to be gentle.  I’m happy about that because I don’t like confrontation.

But guess what, we can’t always avoid it can we?  We can’t always avoid confrontation.  In business, I often had to get involved in negotiations.  Stakes can be high, emotions can run high.  In fact, sometimes I thought my job depended on the outcome.  High stakes. 

I can remember times when I had a person on the other side of the table who had little to lose, scream at me, be abusive.  I would feel things welling up inside me, about to explode.  A couple of things I learned

First, extricate yourself.  One person calls this “Go to the balcony.”  If you can’t leave the room physically, do it mentally, extricate yourselves.  Mentally, people might recommend counting to 10 (or maybe a hundred) until you respond.

The second is, and I’ve found this is much better than counting, is to pray for the other person.  It is difficult to get upset with the other person if you are praying for them, asking God’s blessings on them.  Better than counting.


And we know people who fly off the handle, say things they deeply regret, and after the fact, say that they don’t mean to but time after time they hurt the people they care about the most.

Then there are those who can’t seem to have conversation without their emotions getting in the way and before you know it, someone is out of control.  That is the shrew that is within us.

How did they get that way?  What do we do now?

This is not a new problem.  In Psalm 4, considered a Psalm of David, in other words written a 1000 years before Christ, not a new problem, it says, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”  I would interpret that as saying, “sleep on it.”  “Give it time.”  “Give it thought.”

Good advice for a physical reason.  We were made with this wonderful thing called adrenalin that surges into our system when we are in trouble and causes what we call a “Fight or Flight” reflex.  No time for thought, just respond.  Jump out of the way of the oncoming car.  Or stand your ground, fight or flight. 

No time for thought.  The adrenalin actually shuts down rational thought so we don’t stand there analyzing the oncoming car saying “That sure is a pretty car.”  Without thinking we jump.  We get a command from the back of brain to jump.  Without thought “jump.”

(In one of my many trips to Australia, Rosemary went along on two.  On our first visit, she couldn’t get used to the jet lag and by the fourth day, she still hadn’t slept—a basket case.  Anyway, on the fourth evening we were in Melbourne and a group of us decided to walk across the street from the hotel for dinner.  Rosemary looked, stepped in the street to go across and was immediately greeted by the blaring of a horn.  She ran across six lanes of traffic before anyone could say anything.  What we learned was that the most dangerous thing in Australia was not driving on the wrong side of the road, by looking the wrong way before you stepped off the curb.  The second thing is that adrenalin caused us to jump, in this case across six lanes of traffic.

Likewise when we are threatened by words, and our emotions well up inside us, the adrenalin rush shuts down our thoughts and we speak without thinking, sometimes hurting the people we love the most.

The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me” is simply not true.  We know that.

And one more thing, every “zinger” can undo 20 acts of kindness or love.  Every zinger!


It’s not new.  It’s an age old problem, and God has a lot to say about it.

James says, “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. [He continues] The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,[a] and is itself set on fire by hell.[b] For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,[c] this ought not to be so.”

Then in 1:19, he says, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;

And Paul says in Ephesians, chapter 4: “29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[a] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear…. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[b]”

Let no come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up so that your words give grace to those who hear.  Grace.  Let your words bless the other person.  Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God is Christ has forgiven you.  Be imitators of Christ.


So when confrontation occurs if emotions arise, if we feel the shrew emerging within us, how are we to act? 

First, if we have a choice, “Sleep on it.”  If not sleep on it, “Nap on it.”  What I mean by that is take a break, go to the balcony.  The reason is that it takes 20 minutes to get adrenalin under control once that rush occurs.  During that time, rational thought is diminished and we are likely to say those things we regret.

As Psalm 4:4 says, “Sleep on it.”  At least nap on it.

The second rule in taming the shrew within us is to “be quick to listen.”  Listening is the best way to avoid an escalation of a war of words, “Be quick to listen.” 

Psychologists call this “Listen-talk.”  When we respond to another, especially if they are spiraling out of control, by replying not with our rebuttal, that’s what we want to do right, tell ‘em what we think right now, not with our rebuttal, but by conveying what they’ve said, what we’ve heard.  And if what we have heard is emotionally charged, we acknowledge that too.  “You think me spending all weekend with my fantasy football friends is neglecting the kids and you’re angry about it.”  (or hunting, or fishing, or shopping.  You get the picture.)

But it’s not time to state your side of the story until you know your partner or your friend understands that you understand.  One of most infuriating things of all is for the shrew within us to think we’re being ignored or the other party is not listening, or doesn’t understand how important an issue is to us.  We can convey our attention, our understanding with Listen talk.

Steve Covey in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” said it this way: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  Listen talk does not mean we agree.  It means we understand and is intended to convey that we understand to the other.  Listen-talk avoids criticism and deflects blame, both emotional parts of arguments.  Convey understanding.

It is what James said, “Be quick to listen.”

Then James says, “Be slow to speak.”  Why slow to speak?  We need to take time for our words to be measured, even if the time is only a second or two.  We need to be positive in describing problems and solutions.  We need to minimize blame and criticism.  We can only do that if we are “slow to speak.”

“Look, I recognize that neither of us is spending enough time with the kids.  What if I make sure I spend at least a half day every weekend with the kids.  And what if I pick up the household chores a couple of nights a week so that you can spend more time with the kids, too?”

Measured, slow to speak, positive recognition of the problem and positive in describing solutions.  It’s only possible if we are slow to speak.

Now if he had been even more thoughtful.  He might have added.  “Why don’t we spend time going to church together as a family?”  That would have been thoughtful.  That would have been “slow to speak.” 

James ends with, “Be slow to anger.”  Go to the balcony.  Take a break.  Do not let the “Shrew” within us win.  An emotional response of “I’ll damn well do what I want.  They’re my weekends” said in an angry tone is only going to get a more shrill and emotional retort.  Be slow to anger.  It breaks the escalation of the conversation.

By the way, if you and your partner are prone to escalating arguments, you need to create a house rule, one that says you can stop.  If you feel anger welling up or see it in your partner, you can “stop,” or “I need a nap,” or some agreed to code word that with it promises when things cool down, you’ll get back together and talk calmly about the problem.  Be slow to anger.

Why?  Because God says so.  Lots of reasons, but that may be the best.  God says so.  I love these lines from Ephesians: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.”  In other words, “Be slow to anger.”  Then Paul continues: “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  In your conversations, in your problem solving, imitate Christ.  Be kind to one another.

And if you can’t do that take a break.  Call time.  Go to the balcony.  Take a nap.  Sleep on it.

By the way.  Another rule.  While you’re sleeping on it, you can’t be scheming how you are going to get even.  Instead, pray for one another.


We began by saying that relationships are important to God.  So important in fact, Jesus begins and ends his teachings on the Sermon on the Mount giving instruction on relationship. 

Remember, after the beatitudes, Jesus begins his instruction by saying, “You have heard it said of men of old, you shall not murder, but I tell you whoever is angry with his brother or sister….”  Relationships.

Jesus then concludes the Sermon on the Mount by using half of Chapter 7 to give us rules for relationships.

I’m not going to read all 12 verses from Chapter 7, but you are familiar with all the pieces of it.  You may not have put it all together as relationship instruction.

He begins by telling us “Do not judge.”  Important relationship instruction, right?”  And he admonishes us to examine the log in our own eye.  Again, acknowledging that we may not be able to do much about the other person, but we can about ourselves.  “Do not judge.  Why are you critical of the speck in the other person’s eye when you won’t even examine the log in your own.”  Great wisdom for relationships.

The next verse are these strange sayings about not casting your pearls before swine or they’ll just trample them underfoot.  Maybe within the context of today’s message, Jesus is telling us that within the context of a heated, an emotional discussion, even our pearls, our best arguments are going to be rejected, trampled underfoot.  Don’t do that.  You’re just escalating the heat, damaging your relationship.  Instead of casting your pearls before swine, be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” 

Next in Matthew 7, Jesus gives a short interlude on prayer.  What did we say?  In the midst of heated discussions, pray for one another.  “Ask, seek, find.”  Pray for understanding.  Pray for God’s blessings for the other person.

Then Jesus wraps it all up.  Relationships.  He says, “Therefore in everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets.” 

And what do we want in our relationships?  We want to be blessed, we want to be understood, we want companionship.

How do we tame the shrew that is in us?  Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.  Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Treat others as we would like to be treated.  The very core of Jesus’ teaching is about relationships.  So may it be in all of our lives.  Amen.